Associate Company

Alan Lucien Øyen: “If I think of the historical weight of the project, it will break me”

As the son of a dresser, Alan Lucien Øyen grew up in a small theatre; the Den Nationale Scene (established by Ibsen himself) in the town of Bergen, Norway. Here he would watch theatre religiously from the age of seven: classical productions as well as contemporary masterworks. Inevitably, he went on to establish himself as a writer, director and choreographer, winning international acclaim that did not go unnoticed by one of the most pioneering dance theatre companies in the world, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

A decade on from the tragic loss of its founder, Alan was the first choreographer in that time, alongside Dimitris Papaioannou, to be invited to create a new dance work for the company – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would carry a huge weight of responsibility for even the most self-assured of artists. We spoke to Alan about the challenges of the creative process, meeting the dancers for the first time, the influence of cinema and his earliest memories of the iconic Pina Bausch.

Can you describe the moment you were asked to create a new work for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch?

I remember standing in the midst of winter outside the white marble Opera House in Oslo watching the frozen fjord.  My fingers were similarly frozen from holding the phone talking to Adolphe (the company’s former Artistic Director). I remember the moment as I hung up the phone as completely still. A feeling of total humility, for sure – but also tremendous excitement. The moment’s burnt into my mind.

When did you first encounter the work of Pina Bausch?

My first encounter with Pina’s work was a little clip played back on a VCR in dance history class in 1998. I was still a young student at the time, completely underexposed to the world of dance. I believe it must have been a scene from the Chantal Akerman documentary One Day Pina Asked. Nazareth, Helena, Bénédicte, Dominique, (all the legendary performers that are still in the company), were dancing and waiting in the sun in the courtyard of Palais des Papes in Avignon.

I remember thinking this was so strange. I couldn’t understand. It broke all my preconceptions and expectations of what I knew dance and theatre to be. It was strange – and wonderful!

“This is also dance…” said our teacher, Roy Lie Jonassen, in response to our feathered faces. “What else do you want to see?!”, shouted Dominique Mercy, from the flickering TV screen as he did his tours en l’air and déboulés. I wanted to see all of it…

But, by the time I first got to see Pina’s work live on stage, she was already dead it was Viktor at Théâtre du Châtelet, September 2016.

Always when experiencing Pina’s work, I feel this tremendous excitement: a reinforcement that the stage is a truly wonderful, magical place where everything can, and should, happen. As a creative artist I feel liberated when seeing her work, and afterwords:  moved, saddened and stricken… It has such tremendous impact. 

Alan Lucien Øyen in rehearsal with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

What was your first day in rehearsal like?

Walking into the Lichtburg, not knowing where to put my bag; knowing it was a ‘temple’ (that’s what it felt like). And there was an empty seat in the room. You could feel it. Wherever I looked was history, and humility: her dancers.

I remember my voice trembling as I first spoke to them – we were sitting in a large circle, all 36 dancers and myself. We spent three days sitting in that circle, getting to know each other. It was overwhelming how generously they opened up to me. Sharing their history, their lives. This is something I will never forget. 

The next three days we didn’t speak – we worked.  I remember crying through closed eyes, and smiling through tears as they presented their movements, scenes and ideas. “Close your eyes and I’ll dance for you”, said Julie Shanahan. The whole experience was a tremendous gift. I realise now it was their way of welcoming me, telling me – telling all of us – it will be ok.

This was the first time the whole ensemble created together after Pina. I’m so honoured to have been part of that experience. All of her dancers – young and old – are incredible. I’m in awe of all of them and still somewhat in a state of disbelief to the fact I’m offered to work with them.

Rehearsals for Bon Voyage, Bob

How do you approach the creative process with a new dance work?

I wait. My work always begins and ends with the performers. We wait together. Whether it is creating text or movements – theatre or dance – it always originates in encounters with real people and real stories: the performers themselves. Fictionalised realities of real encounters.

We will spend a lot of time getting to know each other, so that together we can create the performance that best fits us now. I want to learn from them; from their experience. From their lives just as much as their experience from the stage. I’m working with a cast of 16 dancers, many with a lifelong experience from working with Pina, and some newer members to Pina’s family, who have already been affected by her work.

As for now, we wait.  Until something catches our attention, something strange or unusual that beguiles us, that we together can draw from, to create a new work. Life’s a waiting place… but “there is beauty in waiting”.

The more I learn of Pina’s works and her process with her company, the more I realise how tremendous her influence was on the world of performing art: how we create new work of theatre and dance today.  The weight of Pina’s legacy is tremendous.

I had no idea how strong an influence she has had on my own work, through the knowledge that I have inherited from my teachers and choreographers that I have worked with, who in turn have been looking to Pina for inspiration and new ideas.

The world is a small island. It’s strange, but creating in Wuppertal feels a bit like coming home.

How does cinematographic art influence your work and choreography?

I usually say that my pieces on the stage are excuses for not making movies. There is a truth to that, and I certainly go to great lengths to simulate, and borrow from film. I work a lot with collective memories in my work: universal stories that we believe to be our own. Cinema and television are great providers of these stories and memories that we all share. To me, therefore, it’s incredibly fluid and natural to look to cinema.

As an audience we are very trained in the codes and rules of this highly visual medium. I try to play on these rules when working with light and sound in the theatre and when looking at choreography. The world of film is also a world of stories – I love to discover and learn from other people’s lives through the stories we tell. I’m very happy to be working on the stage, though, because there is a sincerity to be found in the live expression, never to be matched by any moment on screen.

A scene from Alan Lucien Øyen’s Bon Voyage, Bob

Tell us about the piece you have created, Bon Voyage, Bob.

When people ask me what the piece is about I usually say I can’t say. Because the process – the conversations between the dancers and myself, with movements and words  – will dictate this. And the process of a new work is something constantly shifting. I’m extremely interested in the current contradiction between fiction and reality. In the breaking point between the two. This is a recurring topic in my work: how we human beings invent our own narratives as we clamber through life. At the end of the day, my main interest is human beings.

How do you deal with the pressure of historical weight?

I try not to think of it. If I think of the historical weight of the project, it will break me – so I don’t. I’m lucky to sleep well at night. I have a good sleeping heart, as we say in Norway. But I have to keep pinching my skin every time I think of this tremendous opportunity, to reassure myself that I’m not dreaming.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch return to Sadler’s Wells with the UK premiere of Bon Voyage, Bob from 22 – 25 Feb. Tickets are available now priced at £12 – £60. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Images: Mats Bäcker

New Shows Announced for Autumn 2018

Today, we announce a thrilling new season of dance coming to Sadler’s Wells in Autumn/Winter 2018-19, featuring new creations by some of the world’s leading dance-makers and unique collaborations between artists. Priority booking opens to members on 16 May, so become a member today to ensure you secure the best seats and avoid missing out on these truly remarkable shows.

American choreographer Mark Morris teams up with the Silkroad Ensemble – the musical collective founded by Yo-Yo Ma – to present the UK premiere of Layla and Majnun, adapted from an Azerbaijani opera. The tragic story of Majnun (meaning “possessed”), who is driven mad over his love of Layla, is performed by 16 dancers that tailor their movements to improvised mugham music, with traditional Asian instruments alongside Western strings and percussion.

Rambert presents one of the last opportunities to see a company classic, Ghost Dances, alongside exhilarating work by early-career dancers in their young company, Rambert2. The mixed programme features work by Sydney Dance Company’ Rafael Bonachela’s, Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Sharon Eyal and Rambert’s guest artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer.

This is followed by Dystopian Dream, a concept originated by composer Nitin Sawhney and co-devised with dancers and choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez. Taking inspiration from threads woven through Nitin Sawhney’s album of the same name, this stage interpretation directed by Wang Ramirez combines choreography, live music and theatre to examine themes of loss, isolation, surrender and continuity.

Award-winning collaborators Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Antony Gormley reunite in the UK premiere of Icon and Noetic, two works created with Swedish contemporary dance company GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, which makes its first visit to Sadler’s Wells.

Icon sees three-and-a-half-tonnes of clay moulded, heaped and shaped by 18 dancers to the sound of traditional songs from the Amami Islands, French ballads and medieval compositions. In Noetic, 19 black-clad dancers manipulate Antony Gormley’s pliable carbon fibre strips in an exploration of noetic (from the Greek “noesis” meaning intellect) philosophy.

Also announced for spring 2019 is a new evening by our International Associate Company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, whose style was forged over decades performing the late Pina Bausch’s huge catalogue of works. The company embarks on the expansion of its repertoire with new works by Greek choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou and Norwegian choreographer, director and award-winning playwright Alan Lucien Øyen.

Full details of Sadler’s Wells Autumn/Winter 2018-19 Season are available on our website. To become a member and take advantage of priority booking as well as other exclusive benefits, sign up online or call 020 7863 8000.

New Year’s Honours list recognises Matthew Bourne, Tamara Rojo and Christopher Wheeldon

Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artists Matthew Bourne and Christopher Wheeldon and Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Company English National Ballet, received a knighthood, an OBE and a CBE respectively as part of the 2016 New Year’s Honours list. Our warmest congratulations to all!

Sadler’s Wells announces Spring/ Summer 2016 programme

A new contemporary programme commissioned for Russian ballet star Natalia Osipova, horses and a multi-installation experience with no dancers all feature in Sadler’s Wells’ upcoming season.

The Spring/ Summer 2016 season was announced at our Annual Press Conference today. Here are some of the highlights.

RESIZED 3 Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant, Arthur Pita_Natalia Osipova_29 June - 3 July_© Nikolai Gulakov

Russian ballet star Natalia Osipova takes a leap into the world of contemporary dance in a triple bill specially commissioned for her, co-produced by Sadler’s Wells and Moscow’s Muz Art Management Company.

The production features choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant, who are Associate Artists at Sadler’s Wells, as well as Arthur Pita. Dancer Sergei Polunin also appears in the programme.

RESIZED 4 Michael Hulls Nitin Sawhney Lucy Carter_No Body_7 - 12 June_© Nick Hillel

In an unprecedented exploration of lighting, sound and projection, in June we turn our building inside out for the world premiere of No Body. This series of immersive, multi-sensory installation works will bring together the essential elements of a dance performance – without the physical presence of dancers.

Lighting designer and Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Michael Hulls invites the audience onto the main stage to experience LightSpace, an immersive installation challenging our mood and senses.  Composer Nitin Sawhney, also a Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist, creates a music, sound and animation trail, while lighting designer Lucy Carter presents pop-up installations in unusual spaces around our building.

GOLGOTA - Nouvelle creation de Bartabas - Avec : Bartabas et Andres MARIN - Aux Haras d Annecy - Le 07 10 2013 - Photo : Nabil BOUTROS/WikiSpectacle Mention et droits obligatoires pour la presse Nationale - WIKISPECTACLE : 01 40 28 08 90

In March, horses join dancers onto the Sadler’s Wells stage for the UK premiere of Golgota by French artist Bartabas.

The breath-taking work, featuring flamenco dancer Andrés Marín and dramatic Gregorian chants, is inspired by the theatricality of sacred rituals such as the Holy Week in Seville, Spain.


Other exciting highlights of the upcoming season include new work by Associate Artists Akram Khan, Crystal Pite and BalletBoyz, Associate Company English National Ballet, our New Wave Associate Alexander Whitley and circus company The 7 Fingers, as well as work by international companies Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and Rosas. More details on the new season are available here

The Spring/ Summer 2016 season goes on sale at 10am on Monday 9 November.


Photo: Sadler’s Wells’ Chief Executive and Artistic Director Alistair Spalding (centre) with dancers Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova.

Matthew Bourne to receive UK Theatre’s outstanding contribution award

Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Matthew Bourne is to be honoured at the UK Theatre Awards 2015 for his contribution to theatre.

The choreographer and Artistic Director of dance company New Adventures will receive the The Stage award for outstanding contribution to British theatre at a ceremony in London on 18 October. A five-time Olivier Award-winner and the only British director to have won a Tony Award for both Best Choreographer and Best Director of a Musical, Bourne is one of the most popular and successful choreographers working today.

Following a 14-year career as a professional dancer, he quickly established himself as an audience favourite with his endlessly inventive and witty versions of classical ballets, such as Nutcraker!, Swan Lake and Cinderella, as well as innovative productions like The Car Man and Edward Scissorhands.

Rachel Tackley, President of UK Theatre, said: “I am a huge fan of Matthew Bourne’s work which has been inspiring and thrilling audiences all over the UK and around the world for many years. I am delighted that his incredible contribution to our industry is being honoured at this year’s award ceremony. I can’t wait to see what he has planned next.”

New Adventures will perform Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells between 1 December and 24 January 2016. To book tickets, visit


Image: Matthew Bourne. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation awarded £1m to tour the UK

Sadler’s Wells’ international festival of hip hop dance theatre Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation Dance Company, one of Sadler’s Wells’ resident companies, have together been awarded over £1 million in funding by the Arts Council.

They are among 13 organisations who will receive a total of over £4.8 million from Arts Council England as part of its Strategic Touring Programme, enabling them to tour throughout the UK over the next two years. The funding shows a substantial investment in developing audiences for hip hop dance.

Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said:“There is no underestimating the growth hip hop as a dance style has been experiencing in recent years, exploding from the streets onto the stage, but also on TV and through fashion and advertising. Its enormous success stems from its ‘each one teach one’ approach to knowledge-sharing and its ability to continuously evolve and develop a highly original vocabulary – a language that is dynamic and current, and speaks to ever increasing numbers of young people.

In the last 12 years, Breakin’ Convention has established itself as a world leader in hip hop dance theatre through its annual international festival at Sadler’ Wells. ZooNation has also been championing the development of hip hop through productions characterised by inventive and captivating storytelling, such as Into the Hoods and Some Like It Hip Hop.”

He continued: “It is great news that the Arts Council has chosen to invest in these projects through their Strategic Touring Fund, which will enable Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation to tour their high-quality work to a number of venues across the UK over the next two years, giving audiences outside London the opportunity to experience hip hop dance theatre, as well as to hopefully discover the next generation of hip hop artists.”

Welcoming the grant, Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist and Breakin’ Convention’s Artistic Director Jonzi D said: “This is excellent news for the sector. It allows Breakin’ Convention to support the professional development of hip hop dance theatre even further, providing skills, knowledge and platforms for the plethora of emerging dance crews following in the footsteps of ZooNation, Boy Blue, Southpaw and Birdgang. The lyrical dexterity of UK emcees will now have a space to develop theatrical devices within our Moving Rap workshop strand. Arts Council England has shown commitment to the creative phenomenon that is Hip Hop culture, at a time when peace, love, unity, and fun is much needed.”

Breakin’ Convention has been awarded £562,783 for a two-year project that will see the festival tour throughout May 2016 and May 2017, programming over 400 local artists per tour to perform alongside international artists. The touring activity will be complemented by a professional development programme, pairing up artists and future hip hop programmers. There will be a new spoken word professional development strand entitled Moving Rap and a continuation of the film-makers mentorship programme.

Launched by Sadler’s Wells in 2004 and hosted and curated by Jonzi D, Breakin’ Convention features performances from diverse UK and international companies each year. The festival also sees Sadler’s Wells’ foyer transformed into a performance space with live DJs, freestyle dance jams, graffiti exhibitions and workshops from top international artists.

ZooNation Dance Company has been awarded £499,471 to present a large-scale tour of Into the Hoods: Remixed, a newly revamped version of the award-winning production, throughout the UK from Spring 2016. Performances of the work at regional venues will build on the show’s track record of bringing more diverse and younger audiences into theatres, something that it successfully achieved during previous runs at Sadler’s Wells, the Edinburgh Fringe, Southbank Centre and in the West End between 2006 and 2010.

Into the Hoods became both the first ever hip hop dance show in the West End and the longest running dance show in the West End’s history, with a five month run at the Novello Theatre. The cast of Into the Hoods won the 2009 What’s On Stage Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Ensemble Performance. Under the direction of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Kate Prince, the much-loved show has been updated for 2015 with new choreography, a remixed soundtrack and new designs. Its first performances will take place at The Peacock from 23 October to 14 November, before the show embarks on national tour in spring 2016.

Into the Hoods: Remixed will act as the catalyst to deliver an audience development project, ZooResidence, across England, supporting and encouraging venues and their local partners to build audiences for hip hop dance theatre in new ways. It will include a series of projects for reaching thousands of young people, culminating in the creation of a piece to be performed as a pre-show curtain raiser for the production at each of the five partner venues.

In the production, ZooNation’s trademark narrative hip hop theatre style is used to tell the story of two children who get lost in the ‘hood’ and the surprising encounters and discoveries they make along their way, in what is a witty and humorous contemporary fairytale.

Kate Prince, Artistic Director of ZooNation Dance Company, said: “I think it is a really exciting and bold move for the Arts Council to make such a significant investment in developing audiences for hip hop dance theatre through these two major projects. The chance to work with venues more closely will really release the potential of our work to reach more people and connect new audiences to regional theatres”. 

She continued: “This investment of over £1 million pounds between ourselves and Breakin’ Convention also makes a statement about hip hop dance and its cultural importance and artistic currency. We are over the moon that the Arts Council is supporting us to take our work around the UK and to be part of developing hip hop dance nationwide.” 

Joyce Wilson, Area Director, London, Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to be able to support Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation Dance Company through our Strategic touring programme; it is a clear illustration of the breadth and quality of work that we value and support. These tours will not only showcase some of the best hip hop dance theatre in the world, but also support the professional development of emerging hip hop dance talent and leaders across England.”


Image: Wanted Posse performing at Breakin’ Convention in 2014. Photo: Belinda Lawley

Associate Artists win gongs at South Bank Sky Arts, Astaire and Tony Awards

On 7 June 2015, two of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artists and its Associate Company celebrated winning prestigious awards at two separate ceremonies.

In London, English National Ballet collected the Dance award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2015 for Lest We Forget, including choreographies by Liam Scarlett and Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artists Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant. The company will bring the successful production to Sadler’s Wells in September.

The Award for Outstanding Achievement was bestowed on dancer Sylvie Guillem for her 35-year career, which has seen her shine in both classical ballets and modern works and, in the process, redefine what a female dancer can be.

In New York, Christopher Wheeldon received the award for best choreography for An American in Paris at the 2015 Tony Awards. The musical also won the awards for Scenic design, Lighting design and Orchestrations.

A few days earlier, on 1 June, Wheeldon had shared the Best Choreographer gong at the Astaire Awards with Joshua Bergasse of On the Town. At the same ceremony, Akram Khan won the Best Choreographer in a Feature Film category for Desert Dancer.

This award bonanza follows the success of Sylvie Guillem and Crystal Pite at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards in April – where Guillem was honoured with a special award and Pite won the Outstanding Achievement in Dance award for her choreography in A Picture of You Falling (as part of production The Associates), The Tempest Replica and Polaris (as part of Thomas Adès : See the Music, Hear the Dance) at Sadler’s Wells.

Congratulations to all artists on these much-deserved honours!


Image: English National Ballet performing Akram Khan’s Dust, part of Lest We Forget. Photography by ASH